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By Rex S. Heinke.
Rex S. Heinke is president of the Association.
This President's Page was originally published in the June 2001 issue of Los Angeles Lawyer.
Remembering the Titans
Recently, I saw Remember the Titans. For those of you who have not seen this film, I highly recommend it. It is based on a true story about a Virginia high school football team in the 1960s. As the film opens, the high school is being racially integrated for the first time. As a result, the coach of the white football team, Bill Yoast, who had lead his team to the state championship, is demoted to assistant coach, and Herman Bond, played by Denzel Washington, becomes the school's first African American coach.
The white players and their parents hate Bond for replacing Yoast, their respected and able coach. Some of this hatred is simply resentment that the known is being replaced by the unknown and some of it is resentment borne of having had no say in the matter. But, basically, it is racism, pure and simple. Fortunately, Bond is not only a first-rate football coach, he is able to adroitly establish his authority over the entire team. With the aid of Yoast, he is able to meld two teams–one white and one black–into a single entity.
This process includes several ugly racial incidents, but somehow the players eventually begin to see each other as individuals. A turning point occurs when the white captain sacks a white player, who is a friend, because he only half-heartedly blocks for the African American players. Soon, the coaches come to realize that Bond cares only about the team and its success–and not about race. Even the parents then join in, lead by their own sons on the team. Ultimately, the team succeeds in uniting the racially divided student body and goes on to win the state championship–but only after Yoast resists the efforts of the opposing team's coaches (all white) to get him to throw the championship game.
Among the most compelling scenes in the movie are those portraying the demonstrations by the white students against integration when the first African Americans arrive on campus. Some carry racist signs and many scream racial obscenities. Those scenes awakened memories that I had not thought about for a long time.
In 1964, I was attending a combined junior and senior high school in rural northern Maryland that was being integrated. There were three such schools in the county: one in the north, one in the middle, and one in the south. The north and south schools were white. The middle school was black. To prepare us for integration, our social science teachers decided to have a debate about race relations and sent four of us to the library to study the issue and prepare arguments for the debate.
At least one thing still stands out in my mind about that debate. There was only one African American student in our entire school of more than 1,000 students. Of course, this meant that everyone knew who John was. He was smart, handsome, personable, and a good athlete. Not surprisingly, all this made him quite popular.
During our debate, those of us who supported integration pointed to John and asked what could be wrong with having other African American students like him in our school. Those who opposed integration never really had a response. The best they could offer was that John, whom they knew, was fine, but not the "others." They feared the unknown and knew nothing about African Americans. They carried the racial prejudices with which their parents had infected them.
It hurt to see Remember the Titans. Watching these young faces twisted with racial hatred revived memories that I had been content to leave dormant for many years. The similar hatred on the faces of some of my classmates when the first African American students arrived at our school is something that is not easily forgotten. But those kids in Virginia finally transcended their hatred and so did the kids I went to school with. In the end, none of us should forget how awful things were then. Without those memories, we cannot measure how far we have come.
But there is still far to go. We still have not achieved a society that is color-blind, though we have traveled far. Indeed, our diversity is one of the important factors that continues to make our country so attractive to so many people around the world. Our diversity is cause for celebration; it is one of our greatest strengths. Like those kids in Virginia and Maryland so many years ago, we are making progress.
One recent encouraging sign comes from the results of the latest census in which a significant number of Americans declared that they do not belong to a single racial category because they are not of a single race. This suggests that the power of race to define who we are is beginning to erode. Love has helped us break down barriers before–between religions and between ethnic groups. My wife and I have two children. They are part Irish, English, German, French, and probably something else. They are also part Protestant of various sorts and part Catholic. In short, like you, they are Americans, but without the hatreds and prejudices that limited their grandparents and parents. For example, even though two of our kids' grandparents were Irish and English–and were not entirely free of the prejudices that have resulted in the deadly conflict that still racks Northern Ireland–our kids have not been infected with that hatred.
That great American institution–the melting pot–is hard at work. And as it works, the barriers slowly come down. Of course, not all differences will end, nor should they. However, it is hard to hate what is part of you. Maybe this is why racist regimes have always tried to prevent intermarriage; they know that it will destroy racism.
Racism is not dead in America, but it is faltering. Racism has separated all of us since the founding of the republic. Now, we can take heart that it will end, though probably not in our life times. For each of us, it is time to rededicate ourselves to racism's eradication. Race just cannot be the basis on which we decide things.
If we can ultimately create a color-blind society, we will have achieved something no other human society has achieved. That is worth the best efforts of all of us.
Being your president for the last year has been a great privilege. Every president says this, because it is true. Of course, a few less rubber chicken lunches and dinners would have been fine, and the hours leave a lot to be desired: too many of them on top of the ones you need to give your clients and the ones you want to give your family. Despite these drawbacks, I have had a wonderful time and hope that I have made some contribution to improving our profession.
Presidents come and go–annually. What remains are the people who do all of the work and really get things done. They are the ones I want to thank, but I cannot thank every one of them by name because there are too many. Thanking a few by name, however is possible. I hope the others will understand if I only refer to them by category.
My thanks to Rich Walch, Roland Coleman, Miriam Krinsky, Robin Meadow, John Kronstadt, John Collins, Steve Bacon, Gracie Lee, Tim Elliott, Teresa Schmid, Mike Rohla, Sam Lipsman, Cecily Cashman, Linda Stude, Lorin Snyder, Gabrielle Brumbach, Jeff Kahan, Catherine Barrad, Ray Boucher, Sharon Brown, Dick Burdge, Eileen Decker, Ken Fong, Stuart Fraenkel, Jan Gabrielson, Stephen Holzer, Brian Huben, Martha Jordan, Diane Karpman, Tomas Lopez, Victor Marmon, Sharon Matsumoto, Charles Michaels, Randy Morrow, Richard Nakamura, Jon Pfeiffer, Steve Rohde, Randall Salter, Rickard Santwier, Arthur Silbergeld, Susan Skelding, Matthew St. George, Ivan Tether, Andy Yamamoto, and the executive committees of all the Association's sections and committees. I know that you will keep up the good work, as will your and my successors. Best wishes to you all